Remembering Oh OK
by Bob Pomeroy
When I made my first trip to Athens, Georgia in 1983, REM were in their creative prime. Tourists were flocking to Athens to try to catch a glimpse of Michael Stipe and the gang. Like other REM fans flocking to the hometown of the University of Georgia, I was interested in checking out the 40 Watt and other locales made famous by the band. In truth though, I was more interested in tracking down the girls from Oh OK. I even found out which pizza joint Lynda Stipe worked at. WHen I got there, it was her day off. Thus ended my career as a star stalker.
Oh Ok were an ephemeral pop band featuring vocalist Linda Hopper and bassist Lynda Stipe with whoever they rounded up to play drums and maybe guitar. Oh OK played deceptively simple songs. Wistful voices blended with a propulsive bassline and basic drumming to create some totally unique pop miniatures. During their brief career, Oh OK released the 4-song WOW mini-album and the 6-song Furthermore What EP. For trivia fans, Furthermore What marked the recording debut of Matthew Sweet who eventually became a real star. It was enough to whet the appetite for more, but aside from a single track on an Atlanta area compilation, there was no more to be had. The band split up. Lynda Stipe went on to put out a couple records with a group called Hetch Hetchy. Linda Hopper achieved a bit of pop success with Magnapop. Both Linda and Lynda are still on the music scene working on projects, but neither one is actively performing at this point.!
Why this musing on a long gone band? Oh Ok’s complete recorded output and then some has finally been issued on CD. Oh Ok: The Complete Recordings collects the 10 songs previously issued along with an additional 13 songs culled from live recordings. To be honest, I’d never expected Oh OK to get the CD treatment because of their low profile and slender output. When I learned about the compilation, I was excited and somewhat apprehensive. I lost my copy of Furthermore What over ten years ago and could never find a replacement. Would the material stand the test of time? Would Oh Ok still sound good twenty years down the line?
I am pleased to report that the original records have held up just fine. The pop miniatures of the WOW mini-LP still bubble with the innocent charm of a precocious child. I still smile when I hear Linda Hopper proclaim, ” I am a person and that is enough.” The songs from Furthermore What showed a maturation in the lyrics and growing sophistication in the music. I love the nonchalance of “Such N Such” as Hopper recounts a weekend party. “Choukoutien” is a haunting, beautiful song. The EP showed so much promise that I was frustrated that a full length album never came out.
The live material on The Complete Recordings validates my feeling that Oh Ok had at least another album in them when they pulled the plug. The 1983 set from the 688 club in Atlanta showcases the band in their original trio configuration of Hopper, Stipe and drummer David Pierce. The songs have the minimalist pop feel of the WOW release, but the delivery is less childlike. “Whore Boy” is definitely more adult than “Brother.” “Round is Funny” sounds a bit like the B-52’s doing street corner doo wop. The sound and the performances from this Atlanta show are both very good.
The 1984 set from the Peppermint Lounge in New York features Brian Cook on guitar and David McNair on drums. The performances and recording of this set are both a bit raggedy. Part of the blame can be put on a mix that is heavy on vocals and drums with the bass and guitar buried in the mix. In other words, it sounds like soundboard tapes. With that said, the songs still hold their own. “Down by the Beach” is a fun, poppy number. “Let’s Get Together” sounds like it could have been a summer pop hit. It’s interesting that the only tune from the records that shows up on the live sets is an extended version of “Lilting,” which they essentially played twice to give it some length. Other curiosities from this set include “Jumping” which featured lyrics by Michael Stipe and a cover version of “Psycho Killer.”
This compilation left me feeling the same way as when I learned the band had dissolved. The material from the original releases still sounds fresh and vibrant today. The unreleased live recordings show that the band had a substantial backlog of material they could have recorded. What could this band have achieved if they’d just held on a little longer? We at least get a hint at what might have come from this disc. Maybe it’s for the best that Oh Ok left their fans forever wanting more.